With a commitment to contemporary craft and design that is broad and inclusive—allowing equally for investigations of material culture as well as for conceptual art—the Philadelphia Art Alliance (PAA) is carving out its own space in the museum landscape. Center support helped the PAA bring to town Beijing-based artists Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen for The Way of Chopsticks, and the Miss Rockaway Armada, a geographically dispersed collective that organizes flotillas, parades and performances.
In 2009, the Philadelphia Art Alliance (PAA) refocused its contemporary art program on craft and design. This exhibition of new work by Beijing-based artists Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen provided evidence of how programmatic boundaries can spur—rather than curtail—imaginative thinking. Dong and Xiuzhen came of age in the rapidly changing China of the 1980s and were deeply influenced by the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. They are established artists who have exhibited at New York's Museum of Modern Art, and their sculpture is not typically associated with craft. Still, their artistic interests—including food, family, and domesticity—align favorably with craft concerns, and their installations use or reference common materials and ordinary household objects. For their project at the PAA's historic mansion on Rittenhouse Square, the husband and wife team brought to conclusion a 12-year series of works that mines the metaphoric potential of the most Chinese of domestic implements: chopsticks. In the series, each artist creates half of the work according to previously agreed-upon parameters but in complete isolation; neither artist knows what the other will do until the final sculptures are revealed. A new 10-channel video on the subject of their own family has also been produced. The exhibition was accompanied by a multi-author catalogue that included contributions by curator Sarah Archer, the artists, Philippe Verne, and others.